The account-based approach is an increasingly common undertaking by marketing and sales departments. Technology and the availability of quality data has made it easier than ever to achieve personalization – theoretically, at least.
But the biggest account-based killer is still at large: Lack of sustained focus from sales.
At ABM Orkestra, we have helped dozens of companies solidify their account-based marketing strategy. The most common issue we see is the difficulty Sales has sticking to the same accounts on a long-term basis, which is necessary for an account-based approach.
I have often wondered why it is so frustrating for Account Executives (AEs) and Sales Development Reps (SDRs) to limit their actions to only the named accounts they have been assigned. Most salespeople don’t deny the advantage of concentrating resources on a short list of the most valuable accounts. They admit to the efficiency of an ABM strategy.
But this is all theoretical. In the trenches of daily life, AEs are often tempted by a taste of unknown:
- Is this account list valuable enough to let me hit my numbers?
- Will I flush enough opportunities out of these accounts I was given?
- Why shouldn’t I find better targets by myself?
For AEs, it’s always tempting to add more ingredients to the pot. But with too many competing flavors, the simplicity and elegance of the dish is lost, and efficacy is diluted.
Note: Account Executives at some organizations also perform sales development; however, for our purposes here, we’re defining the role of AE as client service and acquisition, and the role of SDR as outbound prospecting.
How can you challenge enthusiasm, channel energy, and constantly focus your sales team on the accounts that really matter?
Here are our top 5 recipes for keeping Sales focused on account-based success:
- Involve the sales team in preparing their target account list
- Better educate AEs and SDRs about ABM tasting
- Institute weekly ABM meetings between AEs and marketing
- Concentrate marketing spice on target accounts
- Refresh AEs’ lists during quarterly account reviews
1. Let AEs choose their own accounts
- 10 – 100 target accounts
- Heaping scoop of AE involvement
- Sprinkle of follow-up meetings
ABM is a matter of focus. Ask your AEs to focus their efforts on accounts that are most likely to drive growth at your company. Opinions on workload differ, but allocate, say, 10 to 100 key accounts to each AE.
At ABM Orkestra, we strongly recommend involving sales executives throughout the process of building the ABM target list by inviting them participate in initial ABM workshops. They know their market and targets, and there’s no one better to help identify and communicate your Ideal Customer Profile.
Continue to solicit active feedback from Account Executives during the next steps: when defining your priority verticals, reviewing lists of target candidates, dispatching accounts into tiers, and selecting clients to include in the list. Show your AEs their opinion counts – because it does count!
At the end, when you are ready with consistent lists of target accounts, set 1:1 meetings with AEs for final distribution.
If you want to distribute 30 key accounts to each, provide a list of 40 candidate companies. Ask the AEs to weed out poor prospects, and let them propose a few alternative names of their own.
Now the AE owns the list.
2. Educate, educate, educate
- 1 SDR team
- 1 outside sales speaker
- Pinch of stories
Before launching an ABM initiative at your company, every single member of the sales team needs to be engaged.
AEs must clearly understand how traditional sales and marketing wastes their time and focus: The traditional sales approach isn’t very efficient: It would have Sales following up with leads that aren’t likely to convert and meeting with companies that don’t fit the Ideal Customer Profile and aren’t good candidates for your product.
SDRs are key for ABM success. They too should understand the impact of this new strategy on their results. Their mission will become so much easier, as they only book meetings with engaged stakeholders at named accounts nurtured by Marketing. They should also understand how rewarding it will be to help AEs grow intelligence within their accounts.
The best way to make sure SDRs are committed is to invite the outside sales team to tell its own ABM story.
At ABM Orkestra, we love setting up such testimonial sessions for our clients, in the form of a series of “Before and After ABM” debates. It works so well!
Invite talented sales speakers at companies of your size and industry to come talk to your sales team. Prepare key messages, review issues with your guests, and then let them talk, talk, talk: About problems they used to face before ABM; about the way they implement their process; about their do’s and don’ts; about their initial results and next milestones … Your sales team will love it.
Real stories are a very engaging way to convince a hesitant group of AEs about the benefits of an account-based approach.
Join the on-demand webinar: Why Didn’t They Buy? A Deep-Dive into Buyer Preferences and the Implications for Salespeople
3. Align Sales with Marketing
- 1 weekly alignment meeting
- Personalized emails, events, videos, and targeted ads to taste
- Touchpoints as desired
Marketing can help!
Account-based marketing only works when Marketing and Sales collaborate closely on the accounts they both selected.
This is of the essence of ABM.
And most of the time, mutual intention is there. The concept of alignment is well understood by everyone, and both sales and marketing teams honestly wish they could blend together better.
But old habits of working independently are hard to break – unless you institute weekly alignment meetings.
Every week, without exception, bring sales and marketing teams together to review target accounts that need special support from marketing for the following week.
Read it: 5 Things Sales Wishes Marketers Knew (Are we missing anything?)
For instance, if AEs have problems reaching specific target prospects, Marketing should deploy research efforts to add stakeholders, touch points, or new subsidiaries to the CRM, for better coverage.
Another example: If AEs need help accelerating closing of mature opportunities, Marketing can trigger surgically precise personalized emails or banner ad campaigns, in addition to current sales initiatives.
ABM relies on precision, and precision is based on alignment between sales and marketing teams.
4. Augment old-school outbound marketing
It’s hard for a sales team to stay 100% focused on their target account list, when Marketing keeps on feeding them inbound MQLs. Marketing-qualified leads are important for a robust, consistent pipeline – but not at the expense of existing opportunities.
One way to avoid this distraction is to split Sales into inbound and outbound teams. (See how DiscoverOrg split inbound and outbound sales for a 40% conversion rate.)
Once decided, your new ABM strategy needs to ramp up quickly and drive short term results for AEs.
If your marketing budget continues to be swallowed by irrelevant traffic generation campaigns to your company website, and if Marketing still spends too many hours hunting down acceptable MQLs from a torrent of mix-quality leads, you are not there.
Marketing, too, needs to turn the page of inbound marketing and initiate a new ABM chapter; this may be a drastic change for a traditional marketing team. Replace old MQL metrics (likes, follows, clicks) with sales KPIs (engagements, demos, opportunities opened and won).
5. Refresh quarterly
- Fresh prospect list
- Sales management direction
Without persistence, ABM may fail.
It often takes weeks for ABM marketing campaigns to build brand awareness and educate key contacts at your priority accounts. Sales also needs additional time to engage conversation, book and attend meetings with prospects, identify new opportunities, and initiate long-term relationships.
AEs should understand the requirement of time. ABM is a global process involving everyone, and individual sales reps shouldn’t decide to modify their target account list on their own.
There are just two fundamental rules:
- No one but the VP of sales may change the list of target accounts in the CRM.
- Sales management and account executives meet quarterly to refresh target account lists.
ABM is like grande cuisine. A Master Chef rigorously selects ingredients (target accounts) before cooking, so the sous chefs can concentrate on the recipe of orchestration.
It’s the same with the list of target accounts: Yes, some great companies are probably missing, and yes, maybe new verticals could have been represented. Nevertheless, stick to the recipe – at least until the next quarterly refresh!